FA STARTS SCHOOL YEAR NEXT WEEK
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
When Freeman Academy hosts its traditional opening convocation Sunday night, Aug. 23, it will look and feel much different thanks to efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The 6 p.m. service will be open only to students and their families and, weather permitting, will be held on the lawn south of Sterling Hall.
In addition to the customary introduction of staff and greeting of new families, this year’s convocation will also include the recognition of the eighth grade graduating class that was done at commencement in May.
“It will be good opportunity for us to get together,” said Head of School Nathan Epp. “People are craving chances to get together in a safe way.”
Safety will be the name of the game at opening convocation Sunday night and also across the campus when another school term begins at Freeman Academy next Wednesday, Aug. 26. Masks will be required when proper physical distancing cannot be maintained, and school personnel have been working diligently since June to put in place other safety measures in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“I feel like we have done everything we can that is reasonable to mitigate exposure opportunities,” said Epp, who noted the great support he and others have felt from local health officials, as well as the South Dakota Departments of Health and Education. “Again, we have to be willing to adjust; it will probably only be a matter of time before there’s a positive test or some people have to quarantine, so we’ll make those adjustments as needed.”
Those preparations have included multiple Zoom meetings with parents to discuss plans and allow for discussion and questions.
“It was great,” he said. “Parents asked some questions that we hadn’t thought about, which is why communication is so important.”
Epp said Freeman Academy is fortunate to have a large enough campus where distancing is possible. For some of the larger, combined classes, the school will used the chapel for instruction, as well as the visitor’s center at the Prairie Arboretum and the dining hall in the basement of Pioneer Hall. Chapel, which includes the largest number of student gatherings, will be moved to Pioneer Hall.
“It’s nice to have that kind of space available so we can spread out to give students opportunities where they don’t have to be wearing masks,” Epp said. “It’s pretty clear that we don’t want anybody to have to wear a mask for eight hours a day.”
As for spectator events — volleyball specifically — Epp said he and school officials from Marion, with which Freeman Academy has a sports co-op, plan to put some restrictions in place.
“The activities association has a three-tiered approach and are basically saying, if you’re in Tier 1 and everything’s OK, there’s not a big change and we’ll go about business as normal,” Epp said. “We’re not ready for that. I think, especially initially, we have a reasonability to the Freeman community.”
Epp said the school has been studying the layout of the gym and how many people it can safely accommodate and will be using a ticket system to limit the number of people who have access to the games.
It’s all part of what Epp says needs to be a communitywide safety effort that, up to this point, has gone a long way to limit the spread of the disease.
“We’re fortunate that, in our corner of the world, we have not had the exposure that a lot of other places have had,” he said. “I think a big part of that is because we’re careful, we’re conservative in terms of how we’re handling it, and we’re being responsible. Just because school starts doesn’t mean we stop doing those things. We need to try and have as much normalcy as possible but still take reasonable precautions to keep our staff and students safe.
“That is our one of our main priorities,” Epp continued. “Obviously education is really important, but we have to do it in a safe way.”